Apple TV – Too Cool for School, Two

Apple TV – Too Cool for School, Two

apple_tv_4_backSeveral years back, I gushed about the Apple TV.

Well, not gushed, exactly. But I definitely went on about how much I really liked the device, but had serious reservations about its role and efficacy in the enterprise, or in the classroom.

A few years later down the road, how do I feel?

Well – some things have improved significantly with the Apple TV, some things have not, and some things leave me shaking my head in frustration.

The Ugly

Apple TV has only one video / audio output port, and that is HDMI. This is not a con, in and of itself.

So, why then, do I place this at the top of my “ugly” list?

Because their HDMI implementation is so damned picky. Don’t have the “right” HDMI cable? No picture. Your HDMI device doesn’t “negotiate” its signal the way the Apple TV “likes?” No picture. Using a splitter or adapter to convert the Apple TV’s HDMI output to DVI or VGA? Some work; others don’t.

If you have a Gen 2 or Gen 3 Apple TV, odds are you have less problems with this particular gripe. However, if you are in the throes of rolling out Gen 4s (which we are), more likely than not you will have an issue working with legacy implementations, like Smart Boards and Projectors. We certainly are, and are staring down the prospect of having to run new HDMI cables in place of / addition to our legacy VGA cable runs to our projectors. That, or continue to search for an HDMI-to-VGA adapter that will work with our systems. So far, we’re still looking.

The other “ugly” thing? A USB-C cable (not included) is the only way to connect directly to the device for configuration. Now, for the vast majority of tasks, you don’t need to connect a USB-C cable. However, we use Enterprise Authentication and RADIUS to connect to our wireless network, so we needed a USB-C cable in order to use Apple Configurator.

But, if you go to an Apple Store, you will find that (a) they don’t make a USB-C cable, and (b) they usually don’t stock them. I tried three Apple Stores in NYC (and one in Jersey). Look: if you’re going to support an emerging standard, support it. We wound up buying one from Amazon, but you should take care – because not all USB-C cables are created equally; some shoddy cables have bricked the PCs to which they have been connected.

The Meh

The software for the Gen 2 and Gen 3 Apple TVs would allow you to “hide” elements (apps) from the main menu – very good. Further, you could hide poster art for Movies, TV shows, and Music from the main menu, which is a must for use in environments like Elementary and Middle Schools, where you don’t necessarily wish to display risqué poster art before impressionable young minds.

Gen 4 Apple TVs don’t come pre-installed with Apps; rather, you install apps from the App Store – an improvement.

However, what Apple Giveth, Apple Taketh Away. You can no longer hide Movie Posters (or any App Preview Art) if it is available on the menu; and you can’t remove Apple Movies, Apple TV Shows, or any of the Apple preloaded apps.

The only workaround – for now – is to move Movies and TV shows to the second row of the main menu, so that at least the previews don’t pop up the very moment you start the device.

… And, The Beautiful

There is much to really like in the Gen 4 devices:

  • The new remote. Rechargeable, track pad, Siri. While text input is still no joy, compared to the old Apple TV remotes, this is a huge step forward.
  • App Store for the Apple TV. As I mentioned above, there are only a handful of pre-loaded Apple apps (Movies, TV Shows, Settings, App Store). All other apps – YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, etc. – are loaded through the App Store.
  • BEAUTIFUL animated screen savers.
  • The ability to load profiles Over the Air (OTA). Remember where I complained above about the lack of an included USB-C cable? Well, the ability to load profiles (usually used to preload network credentials, MDM certificates, and restrictions) over the air means that you have one less reason to connect directly to the device, or even to use Apple Configurator at all.

On Balance – Better – But Not Perfect

On balance, the Gen 4 Apple TVs are an amazing consumer device. For the classroom, they still have some tweaking to do to make them a great solution, out of the box.

That said, in the classroom and in the Enterprise, they can work very well.

But you should be prepared to expect curveballs and allocate your time for implementation and deployment appropriately.

I’d love to hear your experiences / war stories. Hit me back in the comments below.

Does technology reduce the costs of teaching?

Does technology reduce the costs of teaching?

Bryan Alexander

Can schools use technology to cut the costs of teaching?  I’m one of three consultants consulted by the Chronicle of Higher Education in an article answering that question.

My opening gambit: “Over all, technology usually does not help reduce instructional costs. Only if we take advantage of open access can we really cut institutional costs.”

(Actually, I do mention a few other ways, that are unpopular.)

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Ridin’ the Storm Out

Ridin’ the Storm Out

I’ll remember 2004, for a number of reasons.

Not the least of which, was hunkering down through three category three hurricanes (Charley, Frances, and Jeanne) in six weeks, while living in Celebration, FL.

There’s an eerie quiet, in the waiting hours before a big storm. Often, the day before a big storm is breathtakingly beautiful, a taunting false dawn before all hell breaks loose. The mundane activities of daily life oddly continue right up until the big blow – soccer games, trips to the theme parks, visiting friends.

Now, twelve years on, I’m preparing to mark another set of bucket list items off the master list: first Nor’easter, first two-foot snowfall, first blizzard.

This particular quiet before this storm, reminds me every bit as much as those tropical precursors a dozen years ago.

We’re doing the mundane. Watching the news. Getting out the snow melt and shovels. Even going to a basketball game in a few minutes, in the hopes that the weatherman is right about when the bottom will drop out.

Will it be as bad they say it will be? Probably.

We’ll ride it out and hope for the best.

And mark it off the list.


Greetings from Asbury Park. No. Not Really. Metuchen, Actually.

Greetings from Asbury Park. No. Not Really. Metuchen, Actually.

2015 will go in the books as one of the more interesting years for our little family. Someday, I may write about it.

But not today.

Today, I’ll just say that I spent one of the more enjoyable Christmases of my adult life, doing mostly nothing more than being in a house the entire day, with the people I love most in the world.

My eldest son and I built a computer from the ground up, got it working, and everyone lived to tell the tale.

I got underwear. And was glad of it.

My ten year old got everything he asked for. Mostly.

My lovely missus got a Fitbit and a new iPad. She was a very good girl this year. And deserved more.

Now, I’m sitting in my kitchen, finishing the last of the wine, and caring not that I will be in bed before 9 o’clock.

There are some days you wish you could freeze in time, and revisit – again and again and again.

Today was one of those. I hope I remember that, tomorrow, when it won’t be.

And I hope that your day today was one of those days. Remarkable. Happy. Joyous. Filled with love, laughter, and family.

Merry Christmas. Let’s definitely do this again.


Obsolescence Happens

Obsolescence Happens

Remember: Need never made a good bargain.

300 Words, 2 Minutes

Whether planned or not, Obsolescence Happens.

It always seems to sneak up with you, when you least expect it – even when you know it’s coming.

  • That fleet of Smartboards you have dozens of, can suddenly no longer have their firmware updated, because those models are no longer supported by the vendor. And just when you needed the very feature, that the new firmware will allow you to use, too.
  • Your “lifetime warranty” switches, that you bought years ago – now made meaningless – because the vendor no longer makes them. Sure – you can update for a price – but lifetime meant the lifetime of the switch, not yours.
  • You upgrade to the latest and greatest WiFi standard access points, only to find out that your controller needs to have its firmware updated to support them – but by doing so, disables all of your old WiFi standard access points. You…

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Constructs, Culture, and Conversations

Constructs, Culture, and Conversations

300 Words, 2 Minutes

Stepping into a new role, in a new place, in a new city, is always a daunting prospect.

Even more so, when one doesn’t have a plan for where to even start.

Fortunately, I’ve bounced around enough, to have crafted a standard approach to getting up to speed quickly and efficiently, and becoming productive immediately upon hitting the ground in a new engagement, project, or position.

My approach centers around three Cs: Constructs, Culture, and Conversations.

The first thing I do in any new engagement is understand all the systems involved, the Constructs, if you will, of the project. This includes everything from understanding accounting systems, the budgeting process, identification of funding sources, and the underlying infrastructure in place to support the enterprise. This is foundational to getting off to a solid, fast start.

Next, I try and suss out the Culture that drives the motivation, purpose, and goals…

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The Best Writing Tool You Have for Persuasion? Your “Voice”

The Best Writing Tool You Have for Persuasion? Your “Voice”

This week, Communications has been front and center for my attention.

In truth, it’s never really far from my mind. 

Because, in order for me to be an effective colleague and coworker, I have to be able to intrinsically understand what is being communicated to me, as well as communicating to others in a way that they understand what I am conveying; and, more importantly, that I achieve the results intended by my method of communication.

One means I use in my written communication, to set tone and atmosphere, is the concept of voice. You might think of it as personality

Whether we all realize it or not, the way we write always carries the DNA of our thoughts along with us when we send out our words into the ether. Many of you can read a few words into an email and immediately recognize – through idiom, habit, or pattern – who the author is, without looking at the “from” line. This is because you are detecting the unseen hand –  and the voice – of the writer. It’s why some people can never submit anything anonymously, because by their quirks and turns of phrase, you will know them.

How can voice be used to achieve positive effect?

First, think of your writing voice as the same thing as your spoken word. Imagine yourself, not at a remove from the person to whom you are speaking, but that they are right there before you. Say only the things you would say to them if they were there before you (no – strike that. Say only the things you should say if they were there before you).

Think of how your audience will react to whatever it is you are about to “say.” Will it put them on the defensive? Will it be hurtful? Will they react positively to your message? Understanding the emotional state your messaging will place the receiver in, by your tone and by your voice, is equally important to achieving whatever objective you’re trying to accomplish through your messaging, as the content of the message itself. In order for seeds to take root, you have to make sure that you’re sowing into fertile ground.

Through judicious use of voice, you can communicate even unpleasant truths, with greater impact – that is, if we use reasoned and dispassionate communications as our default mode, and impassioned language only as warranted. If everything is presented as a crisis (and I know – some weeks, it seems that they are), we are in danger of losing impact in getting our message across. Our audience learns to filter us out. Or worse: ignore us.

As you are reflecting upon your written voice, consider the image you wish to protect. Is it thoughtful? Respectful? Professional? Or is it annoyed? Angry? Resentful? Trust me: we all need editors. Try and use intentional reflection over how your written voice will come across, as your own personal editor. It won’t save you from all situations. But it will, most of the time. When it doubt, it never hurts to wait a few moments, hours – or days – to send out that flaming email you composed in a fit. Remember: you really can’t unsay anything.

Look – not every text or email is going to be a literary masterpiece. We don’t live and work in a vacuum, devoid of emotion, stress, or pressure.

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t be intentional about the voice we choose to project, and to become the people we strive to be, represented by that voice – even if we are all still very much works in process.